Figuring out what to do for someone with cancer can feel complex. What do they need? How can I help? What if they take it the wrong way?
Cancer is an incredibly terrifying and stressful disease. And I can tell you for sure that when you’re going through it, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU NEED.
Heads Up! If you’re drowning in the overwhelm of a cancer diagnosis, we can help you SIMPLIFY the complex issues that come with cancer. Finding the best care, talking with your insurance company, finding resources that will actually help, and dealing with the fear, anxiety, and overwhelm of this whole situation.
So we created this list (after 7 cancer diagnoses in the last 4 years) of the 15 things that make a big impact for families going through this.
So the next time you’re asking yourself what to do for someone with cancer, these are the things that will make a HUGE difference.
1. Be a Great Listener
Cancer is some seriously stressful shit. It’s terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, and uncertain. Every time you think you’re in a good place, you start worrying about what’s coming around the corner. You spend so much time waiting for everything (tests, results, treatments, to feel better). And when you’re alone, the most terrifying thoughts start running through your mind. It’s never ending.
Let them get some of this “stuff” off their chest. It’s so important to unload some of the fear and the stress without judgment.
A Few Things to Keep In Mind…
- Don’t try to fix everything (you can’t anyway).
- Refrain from telling them “this too shall pass.”
- Don’t tell them about all the relatives you’ve had with cancer.
- Skip talking about your conspiracy theories (you know, there actually is a cure, big cover-up, no one wants you to know…)
- Don’t educate them on all of the natural cures you’ve heard about (removing sugar from their diet, or the melon you read about with healing properties). Let the doctors handle the treatment and cure conversations.
- Don’t push. They just need someone to talk to. And they don’t expect you to “get it” unless you’ve been there. It’s okay if you don’t. Just let them talk and try to keep things as normal as possible.
2. Visits from Friends and Families
Trust me, when your family is going through cancer, you need as much normalcy and distraction as possible. Having a visitor to break up the monotony of the day, and distract you from all of the stuff you have to worry/ stress about is amazing.
Make things as normal as possible. Let them vent and unload, but tell them about what’s going on with you too. Tell funny stories or crazy things that have happened. Cancer takes over your whole life, give them something else to focus on.
(Hint: Be Flexible. Call ahead of time and double-check the day of. Some days are not good days and if it feels like it’s too much, offer to come back another time.)
3. Make them Laugh
Cancer is a depressing and anxiety-provoking disease. There are not enough smiles, laughter, and good times with Cancer.
Laughter is one of the best medicines you can give someone.
Bring the joy and happiness, the hope and encouragement. Bring the light. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say, or how to react.
Just be you and keep things as normal and as light as possible. Trust me they’re carrying enough heavy stuff.
Laugh about stupid things, tell old stories, talk about all of the ridiculousness that has nothing to do with cancer.
Be positive and hopeful. Let them know that you’re with them and you’re not going anywhere.
And then stick around.
4. Rides to the Dr
Depending on the type of cancer, we are probably talking about a TON of appointments. And there are so many factors involved in this.
Treatment, symptoms, side effects, rough days, support…
Offering a ride to and from the doctors could be a HUGE relief for someone struggling through this journey.
5. Cooking, Shopping, Laundry, Prescription Pick Up
Errands like this take a lot of pressure off people. Cancer is like a never ending to-do list and removing ANYTHING from that list is extremely helpful.
Make a meal, wash a load of laundry, or grab groceries or prescriptions while you’re out running around. Don’t ask them if they need anything, just swing by with dinner and drop it off.
Trust me, every little bit helps.
6. Take Them Out
A picnic in the park, a walk around the neighborhood, a scenic drive with some soothing music. Get them out of the house and fill a few hours with fun, happiness, and friendship.
You don’t have to do anything that requires a ton of energy (for them or for you), you can just plan something easy to break up the day and add a little excitement to an average day.
A change of scenery can greatly decrease the stress and anxiety of cancer and do wonders for a person’s frame of mind.
7. Things to Look Forward To
One of the things you learn very quickly during cancer is there isn’t a whole lot to look forward to when you’re spending your days running to treatments, doctor appointments, and feeling like crap.
Cancer takes over your life…
Human beings need things to look forward to. Things to be excited about, think about and plan for. The more reasons people have to keep going and keep fighting this thing, the better.
Because after months or years of staying motivated through the sickness and the side effects and the constant appointments and treatments that consume your time, it becomes much harder to keep fighting through the exhaustion.
Not because you don’t want to fight, but because you are physically and emotionally exhausted.
Having experiences that are doable and amazing is an incredible way to keep someone’s head in the game and their energy strong.
8. Don’t Disappear
In the beginning, when you’re first diagnosed people come out of the woodwork to offer love, help, and support. But eventually, people go back to their lives (as they should).
The family, however, doesn’t get to go back to their lives. It’s hard to go from this enormous outpouring of love to silence.
Check-in, visit, call, text, send a card….stay in touch. Let them know you’re around.
Shoot a text once in a while, “just wanted to say I’m thinking of you and see how things are going”. We all get busy, (and if you’re like me and you suck at keeping in touch) mark it in your planner so you don’t forget.
It makes a huge difference to a family going through this.
9. Just Grab It
Don’t ask if they need anything (trust me, we had NO IDEA what we needed), just say…
- “I’m running to the store. Can I grab anything for you?”
- “I have to swing by the pharmacy after work, can I grab something for you?”
- “Hey! I made a casserole for you guys tonight! Is it okay if I drop it off and you can just toss it in the freezer for whenever?”
- “I have an empty washer over here (or I’m headed to the laundromat) and wanted to let you know I would love to help you out with the laundry. Can I swing by and pick some up?”
I can remember after an incredibly long and difficult few days, which included a hospital admission and a week away, we arrived home to a perfectly manicured lawn.
We still have no idea who did it, but I can tell you that when we left the lawn was starting to look like a jungle.
Things that used to be a priority like mowing the lawn, suddenly get tossed on the back burner. You have so many other things to stress about, you literally can’t deal with things that used to be important.
Here are a few other ways you can help out …
- Mow the lawn
- Rake leaves
- Shovel snow
- Take out the garbage
- Salt the driveway
- Offer to install grab bars around the house, or in the shower. (This can be a game changer if it’s necessary!)
- Fix things that are broken.
- Change a light bulb.
10. Keep an Eye on Things When They’re Away
For many families (including us), receiving the best care means traveling. Our cancer center is over 2 hours one way which means that all day trips and overnight visits happen on the regular.
Offering to take care of a few housekeeping issues can be extremely helpful and comforting.
- Feeding Pets
- Keeping an eye on the house.
- Switching on and off lights.
- Walking the dog (or taking in the dog for a few days).
- Picking up mail or packages.
Being away, but knowing someone is looking after things gives you peace of mind. So you can focus on appointments, treatment, and getting better.
You can never get enough hugs. This disease is stressful, painful, and isolating. You may experience body changes, loss of hair, you may start to look different and feel differently about yourself.
It’s not uncommon for someone to experience a loss of self confidence after all of these changes.
Don’t be afraid to hug them.
The power of human touch is so powerful. Everyone needs that sometimes and during a cancer situation, you need a lot of that.
12. Donate Blood
We have had 7 cancer diagnoses in my family over the past 4 years. And 3 of those family members needed blood transfusions on a consistent basis. For some families with cancer, blood transfusions are a huge part of keeping them healthy and feeling good.
There is always a need for blood donors. In fact, I feel like there is always a desperate or “critical” need for donors because the need is so much bigger than the supply. I started giving blood about a year ago and I try to sign up for every drive that comes to my area.
Because people in my family need this and it’s one of the easiest ways I can help (plus you get free cookies and juice, who can say no to that?!).
Prayer is one of the most incredible gifts you can give to a family going through this.
It’s like ordering some extra backup from Heaven. Who doesn’t need some extra back-up when you’re going through something of this magnitude?
I am certain that the reason my dad was able to keep fighting for 21-months was because of this one “simple” gift. It may seem small, but it’s a huge and powerful way to help families who are struggling through this!
14. Watch The Kids
When I was a kid, my friend’s mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, I just know that she spent a lot of time at my house (which was great for me!). She even got to sleep over sometimes on school nights (which was pretty exciting).
My parents were retired when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and all of this chaos started.
But, there are thousands of families dealing with this that have small children.
Having a safe place where the kids can spend some away from cancer, eating dinner, doing their homework (or playing video games) is a HUGE and HELPFUL gift.
This is exactly the kind of support that cancer families with small children need during treatment, on days that include long doctor’s appointments, or on rough days when the idea of getting out of bed is excruciating.
Having a safe place where kids can go and get a break from some of the stress and craziness that comes with cancer is an incredible gift for families going through this.
15. Financial Help
It’s bad enough that cancer explodes into your family and takes over your life and mentally and physically drains you. This disease drains you financially as well.
Medical bills, prescriptions, trips back and forth for appointments. If treatment is out of town we might be talking about overnight hotel stays, tolls, parking, and meals while away.
There are an endless amount of expenses that come with this disease.
And people who are working and battling cancer will most likely need to take days off or stop working altogether while they’re going through this.
You may be able to organize a collection for the family through their church, place of employment, or within their community. (Note: make sure to handle this sensitively so it doesn’t come off like charity).
I would also consider giving gift certificates from the local grocery store or gift cards that can be used to pay the cable, car loan, or electric bill.
Any of the above will be extremely helpful to someone struggling through this battle.
What to do for someone with cancer is a really common struggle. How can I help? What do they need? What can we do?
These are the top 15 ways to help people and families struggling through cancer. And as a bonus, this can eliminate some of the stress, depression, and anxiety of this disease as well.
Did I miss any? Leave a comment letting me know your favorite way to help someone with cancer…
P.S. If you have no idea how to deal with a cancer diagnosis, we can help you formulate a plan to SIMPLIFY the complex “stuff” that comes with this disease…
Finding the best care, talking with your insurance company, finding resources that will actually help, and dealing with the fear, anxiety, and overwhelm of this whole situation.
We can’t control the cancer, but we CAN show you how to manage this crisis. And it’s 100% Free.
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